I became Vasco when researching
of the Earthbound Gods. In the 1910s and 1920s, Vasco fought the elite clubs of
Temples Rio so that the working class, illiterate and
sub-altern could play football and receive something for their labors. The
all-white clubs of Botafogo, and
Fluminense did not have to pay their players because they were daddy’s boys exercising
their right to exercise vigorously. They had sponsors but instead of wearing
the names of companies on their shirts, they carried their wealth in their
names and residential addresses. The smaller teams from the suburbs paid their
players a bicho, an animal, sometimes
a leg of a cow, or a chicken, or some eggs – something to pay them back for the
energy and time expended on the field of play. This was unacceptable to the nascent
America Rio football federation which disguised its
racism and classism behind statutes of amateurism.
When Vasco won the second division in 1922, the big four of the time decided that they wouldn’t play against the blacks, mulattos, Portuguese and poor whites from São Cristóvão, forming a separate league that lasted for TEN YEARS. This apartheid system was only resolved with full professionalization in 1933, six years after Vasco had built a monument to its project of social inclusion, the São Januário. Vasco’s role in opening football to all social classes, the beauty and symbolic power of the stadium and a wealth of other non-rational reasons made me Vasco. That’s over.
I have long argued that if there is going to be any meaningful change to and in the world of football, we have to start understanding the acts of fandom as political. Putting on a team jersey is never neutral but rather an incorporation of one’s self into a larger community, a larger historical trajectory, a complex of actors and agents that are invariably connected to political economies and urban spaces that make one sleepy imagining their extent and intricacy. Nonetheless, they exist. I would never, ever pull on a shirt that had the letters CBF (the Brazilian football confederation) on it because of all of the reasons I have explained ad nauseam in these pages. If there are to be political consequences that result from our individual actions, football is a fine place to start thinking more deeply.
|São Januário loses his head. It appears not much has changed.|
The report that Vasco has maintained a secret training ground where its young, poor, semi-literate players are kept in conditions of slavery, with the full knowledge and consent of the board of directors, after a year of negotiation with public prosecutors after a 14-year old boy from Minas Gerais died because there was no medical staff on site…it makes me sick.
Vasco has turned away from everything that it stood for while at the same time using the words “inclusion” and “democracy” to promote their brand on a uniform. In short, Vasco is selling its history as a hollow commodity while at the same time exploiting the very people this history pretends to connect with. I repeat: Vasco was trying to hide their “slave-like” training camp for more than a year after one of their youth players died from the conditions at a different site. The board of directors smiles and struts around repeating the old mantras while marching to the drum of maximum exploitation.
We know that Vasco is not the only Brazilian team that engages in these kinds of practices. Brazilian teams make 28% of their profits from the sale of players, most of them never play a full professional season in their native land. The global political economy of football begins with the pipe-dream of becoming Dani Alves or Ronaldinho Gaucho, passes hopefully through concentration camps where swarms of piranha-like agents and coaches break and bend Brazilian adolescents to be fit for export while neglecting human rights and individual dignity. When those unpaid, ill-treated adolescents do actually break, or don’t bend enough, they are discarded on the scrapheap where tens of thousands just like them squirm and cry, their young lives already wrecked by the impossibility of their own dream that may not have even been theirs to begin with.
We prop up these dreams every time we pull on that shirt.
I am saddened, horrified and angered.
I am not this Vasco.
I reject this club.